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Paul Jay with host Ben Norton discusses the history of how US foreign policy has used the Saudi claim to lead the Islamic world to fight nationalism and socialism in the Middle East – From a live recording on October 16th, 2018

Story Transcript

BEN NORTON: Hello. I’m Ben Norton from The Real News Network. And I’m with Paul Jay, who is the founder and senior editor of The Real News Network. We’re going to talk about the special relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, what is behind it, and who benefits from it. And specifically, we’re going to look at the new Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been accused of executing, essentially, in a gruesome manner this Washington Post columnist Khashoggi. And we’re going to talk about the global repercussions of this and the Trump administration’s response.

Trump himself, when he was asked about this, he said that the U.S. must continue its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, continue its support for the Saudi regime. And specifically, he points it out that he has signed $110 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Asked by journalists if the likely killing of Khashoggi would impact those arms sales, Trump replied saying no, not at all. The U.S. must continue selling them for jobs and for our economy. And if the U.S. did not do it, then Russia or China might do it instead. Here’s a clip of Trump saying this.

DONALD TRUMP: I don’t like stopping massive amounts of money that’s being poured into our country. I know they’re talking about different kinds of sanctions. But they’re spending $110 billion on military equipment, and on things that create jobs, like jobs and others for this country. I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States. Because you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia, or China, or someplace else. So I think there are other ways, if it turns out to be as bad as it might be, there are certainly other ways of handling the situation. But I will tell you up front, right now, and I’ll say it in front of senators, they’re spending $110 billion purchasing military equipment and other things. If we don’t sell it to them they’ll say, well, thank you very much, we’ll buy it from Russia, or thank you very much, we’ll buy it from China. That doesn’t help us. Not when it comes to jobs, and not when it comes to our companies losing out on that work.

BEN NORTON: So, that was the U.S. President Donald Trump insisting that the U.S. must continue its arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Some fact checkers and journalists have called into question the specific $110 billion figure; but regardless, we’re talking about huge sums of money that potentially are coming into the U.S. economy. Paul, what do you say to this argument that the U.S. must continue doing these arms sales to Saudi Arabia because it’s a key part of the U.S. economy, and it creates jobs?

PAUL JAY: Well, that’s kind of the core question. Who benefits, not just from the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, because to look at that relationship you have to step back. Who in the United States benefits from America playing the role of asserting global hegemony? If you’re going to be the big power around the whole globe, that means you’ve got to region by region control each region. And of course, regions that have oil are even more important. And this goes- in a second I’ll talk a little bit about the roots of this.

But a trillion-dollar military budget, and it’s probably more than that, the kind of expenditure it takes to assert U.S. control globally, and then with a very specific emphasis on the Middle East, obviously, because of the oil, and the arms purchases, who benefits? Well, of course some sections of the American people do benefit. I mean, people working in arms manufacturing enterprises benefit some. A certain amount of the plunder of global wealth does trickle down, to some extent, although less and less than it used to, to working people. You can’t say that a section of the American working class and broader population doesn’t benefit at all from this kind of plunder and control and domination; especially, you can say, the Middle East, because of the oil.

But who really benefits in a much bigger way is obviously the military-industrial complex, the people that owns the arms manufacturers that are selling these weapons, and the fossil fuel industry, certainly in the past, has benefited through the direct access to Saudi oil, and the special relationship, and now benefit in terms of controlling and cooperating with the Saudis on oil prices. The geopolitical control the American elites get through dominating, controlling the region, and who gets to buy Saudi oil. And the most important point is you take that trillion-plus dollars, year after year, much of which goes towards the Middle East- we know Israel is the biggest recipient of military aid. If you took that same money and applied it to domestic spending, study after study has shown that if you put the money that’s in the military budget towards schools and infrastructure, and building up a domestic economy, that that would be way better for the majority of the American people. It’s not as profitable for the sections of the elites that control arms and fossil fuel.

So who benefits? Who benefits is the elites. The American oligarchs benefit from the point of view of geopolitics, because they want to control the world. And more importantly, arms manufacturing and fossil fuel. And arms manufacturing is, to a large extent, arms sales fueling the relationships.

But you need to back up a little bit. Because to really understand the U.S.-Saudi relationship, you’ve got to go back to 1945, when Roosevelt has a meeting with Prince Ibn Saud on an American- I think it’s a destroyer, a boat on Bitter Lake. And Roosevelt is now charting what the world’s going to look like, especially the Middle East, post-World War II. And Roosevelt makes a deal with Ibn Saud. And this meeting’s well documented. And essentially says the Saudi family, the House of Saud, can rule Saudi Arabia in exchange for American military and political support. And the deal is the Saud family has to serve American interests.

Understand, by the end of World War II, it’s clear direct colonialism just isn’t going to work anymore. The United States can’t just rule Saudi Arabia directly, nor anywhere else. The British empire had fallen apart, was going to continue to fall apart. The French, the Belgians. It was clear the direct ownership of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America was just too expensive. And you were constantly dealing with rebellion, and people organizing revolutions, and national liberation struggles.

So you need elites in these countries to rule on the empire’s behalf. And Roosevelt constructs this.

There’s a very interesting quote from Eisenhower which really lays bare what the strategy was. Eisenhower says, we need the House of Saud, we need the Saudi ruling family, because of their role in defending Mecca- the most important shrine in Islam- the deal of the Saud family with the [Wahhab] religious leaders, that the Saudi royal family will assert their religious, ideological leadership throughout the region. To do what? To oppose nationalism. For example, all across the Middle East there was an upsurge of national liberation. People saying, listen, these oil resources should belong to the people of the region. Not just to serve the U.S. and the West. Eisenhower says, there’s a direct quote. He says, oppose nationalism. Oppose, of course, the real enemy, socialism. And that doesn’t mean the Soviet Union. That means people’s aspiring for independence and socialism in their own countries. And Nasserism- Nasser is the leader of Egypt post-World War II, into the ‘50s and the ‘60s. Nasser represented a quasi-kind of socialism, but mostly a nationalist, who wasn’t going to simply be a new neo-colony of the United States, and was also playing the Soviet Union and the Americans off against each other.

So the Sauds were going to play this role to help manage the region on behalf of the Empire. And you can see this in more modern times very directly with what happened in Afghanistan, where the United States, one, wanted to draw the Russians, the Soviet Union, into kind of an endless war in Afghanistan. An Afghan Communist Party comes to power in Afghanistan. And the Americans start arming a jihadist movement from rural Afghanistan who were opposed to educating women, and schools, and such. And who is behind the scenes pulling the strings, together with the United States and the CIA? Well, of course it’s the Sauds, the Saudis. And it’s the Saudis that send bin Laden to Afghanistan. It’s the Saudis that advance and develop these madrasas in Pakistan that are educating people in the most extreme form of, I guess, a militant Islam, you could call it. But a fanaticism. But the Saudis finance- the Taliban comes to power in Afghanistan, to a large extent, nurtured and guided by Sauds, Saudi money and influence, together with the Pakistani ISI.

So the Saudis are supposed to manage the region on behalf of the American empire. And there’s no evidence this serves the American people, but it certainly serves the American oligarchy.

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Paul Jay was the founder, CEO and senior editor of The Real News Network, where he oversaw the production of over 7,000 news stories. Previously, he was executive producer of CBC Newsworld's independent flagship debate show CounterSpin for its 10 years on air. He is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with over 20 films under his belt, including Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows; Return to Kandahar; and Never-Endum-Referendum. He was the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and now the largest such festival in North America.